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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5075

Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (15:24): I rise to take note of answers given by Senator Evans to questions asked by Senator Abetz. Labor has grown deaf and blind to the frustrations of Australians regarding our borders. Yesterday was a day that Australians have grown tired and weary waiting for. During their wait, their cynicism about the national government and the political process that underpins it has been magnified and grown heavy. Across the country, Australians are tired of the politics that has broken the protection of our borders, shamed our reputation amongst our neighbours and risked the lives of many.

Much is open slather in the sport that is Australian politics, but this episode is gross ineptitude by a Labor government at its best, or it is the most shameful exercise of political survival. The embarrassment and shame of senators opposite is well justified. The government's reluctance to properly and comprehensively address our border protection priorities has come at great cost. There have been 22,518 arrivals in 386 boats since November 2007—a hefty cost to our border protection. In five years, more people have arrived by boat than in the entire period of the Howard government.

In the hop, skip and a jump that is Labor's attempt to restore the integrity of our borders, the Houston report and more particularly the government's decision to embrace Manus and Nauru as part of a solution is a welcome but long-awaited first step. Labor's conversion to a more robust and effective position on border protection is taking too long. It is important and worthy to acknowledge the importance of this long-awaited recognition that offshore processing at Manus Island and Nauru will have a positive effect on reducing the incentive for vulnerable people to take risks. The government's failure to quickly endorse a comprehensive plan is staggering. That plan should be simple. It has been tried and tested and it has passed with flying colours. That plan is offshore processing at Manus and Nauru, it is the resurrection of temporary protection visas and it is a will to turn back boats when it is safe to do so.

While the community has lost faith in Labor and its leaders, a group of three has successfully fulfilled the role of policy making for an inept Labor government. The Houston report gives Australians a road map for restoring their borders, rebuilding the pride of their country in the region and stopping vulnerable people from undertaking a risky path to a better life. We have a report, we have a road map, but we are still left with a government with a poor record of implementation. The question that Australians should now ask is: can Labor be trusted to implement a policy that they were reluctant to embrace in the beginning? The emphasis is important:'reluctant to embrace in the beginning'.

In 2003, the Prime Minister was against offshore processing and the Pacific solution. She said that Labor would end the so-called Pacific solution—the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands—because it was costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle. As Deputy Prime Minister, her government dismantled the coalition's successful Pacific Solution policy. In 2008, her colleagues said that Labor was committed to abolishing the Pacific Solution, and this was one of the first things that the Rudd Labor government did on taking office. 'It was also one of my greatest pleasures in politics,' said Labor's Senate leader.

I believe that it is powerful reading to sometimes take note of the comments in our media, and today's Australian newspaper is an important and powerful one. Sometimes it is easy to dismiss the powerful observations that are often made by our media commentators, but two comments today stand out to me. The first comment is:

… that the dismantling of the Howard government's border protection policies and their replacement with onshore processing has been a powerful pull factor behind the sharp increase in asylum-seeker arrivals by boat in recent years. The panel recognises that in order to stem the tide of asylum-seekers, this pull factor must be urgently addressed by implementing policies, including offshore processing, that deter people from undertaking dangerous boat journeys to Australia to seek asylum.

The second comment—and I will finish on this point—is:

… the Labor Party's decade-long vacillation on asylum-seeker policy, which has been defined by backflips, policy reversals and an irrational opposition to past Coalition policies that demonstrably worked.

(Time expired)

Question agreed to.